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Research council set to tackle tough issues

European Union Research ministers meet in Luxembourg on 26 June, along with European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, to discuss the main elements of the Sixth Framework programme (FP6), the details of the European research area (ERA) and hear reports on the pressing is...

European Union Research ministers meet in Luxembourg on 26 June, along with European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, to discuss the main elements of the Sixth Framework programme (FP6), the details of the European research area (ERA) and hear reports on the pressing issues in European research such as progress on researcher mobility, international cooperation, science and society and benchmarking. But even before the meeting started, a joint statement by some of the major research and academic institutions in Europe has urged the ministers to take into account some issues which the institutions feel may not be getting sufficient attention. The statement, by the European science foundation (ESF), the European university association (EUA) and All European academies (ALLEA) says that 'the European research area should build on existing structures and organisations.' It goes on to add that the success of the ERA depends on its link with the Bologna process, which called for a Higher education European area. The joint statement makes clear that there is a need to integrate humanities and social sciences in the new framework programme due to their role in addressing its multicultural and multilingual nature and claims these 'need to be more adequately represented in the Framework programme proposal.' It also highlights the concern of smaller players, who have expressed concern at the over the proposals for large scale integrated projects, which they say 'may disadvantage smaller research groups'. The ministers at the council meeting, which is presided over by Swedish research minister Thomas Östros for the last time before the beginning of the Belgian presidency at the beginning of July, will be holding an orientation debate over some of the issues mentioned in the statement. They will be looking at the details of the new Framework programme and discussing the various budgetary implications of the programmes within it. The Commission proposals for FP6 were made in February 2001 and come under the codecision procedure (European Parliament and council). This is one of the last major opportunities for the ministers to discuss the proposals as their first reading by the European Parliament is scheduled for autumn 2001, while the next meeting of the Research council will take place in October 2001. Also on the agenda at the meeting will be a number of reports and working papers which highlight areas that need addressing. Discussion on the Commission working documents on both 'science and society' and 'women and sciences' will take place. The former will look at the main areas to focus on, including ethics, freedom of research and reinforcing dialogue with the citizen. The latter will look at the progress made in the present Framework programme in incorporating women further into research and science and involve recommendations of how to reinforce the initiative. Discussions are also expected on how to improve research infrastructures, focusing on a Commission working document which recommends actions such as combining existing infrastructures and new mechanisms for European scientific advice and policy decisions for infrastructures. Progress reports and communications on benchmarking, mobility and human resources and the international dimension of the ERA will also be submitted to ministers at the council meeting. The benchmarking report will provide the ministers with the latest statistical information on research areas such as human resources, public/private investment and research's impact on competitiveness. The mobility communication contains proposals for measures which would create a more favourable environment for researchers in Europe, thereby hoping to create a 'brain gain'. And the communication on the international dimension of the ERA looks at the introduction of guidelines for a new scientific and technological international cooperation policy, which opens up the ERA to the rest of the world. Also on the agenda are updates on biotechnology, where the Commission will provide information on the latest information on the area, leading to the drawing up of a communication on the subject by the end of 2001. A communication on TSEs (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as BSE) has also been approved by the Commission, which includes an inventory of the research carried out in the area. The communication also recommends areas where research coordination can be strengthened. And, following the recommendation of the Portuguese delegation, a discussion will be held on how to foster more of a scientific culture in Europe. Finally, a joint document by the Commission and the European space agency (ESA) will be presented on the issue of global monitoring for environment and security, focusing on a new satellite system that could provide information on environmental trouble spots.